Article image
Robert Reich
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 6 December 2012
Yes, America does face a cliff — not a fiscal cliff but a set of precipices we’ll tumble over because the GOP’s obsession over government’s size and spending has obscured them.

Cliff Notes on the Three Real Perils Ahead

Article image

The “fiscal cliff” is a a metaphor for a government that no longer responds to the biggest challenges we face because it’s paralyzed by intransigent Republicans, obsessed by the federal budget deficit, and overwhelmed by big money from corporations, Wall Street, and billionaires.

If we had a functional government America would address three “cliffs” posing far larger dangers to us than the fiscal one:

The child poverty cliff.

Between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of American school-age children living in poor households grew from 17 to 21%. Last year, according to the Agriculture Department, nearly 1 in 4 young children lived in a family that had difficulty affording sufficient food at some point in the year.

Yet federal programs to help children and lower-income families – food stamps, aid for poor school districts, Pell grants, child health care, child nutrition, pre- and post-natal care, and Medicaid – are being targeted by the Republican right. Over 60 percent of the cuts in the GOP’s most recent budget came out of these programs.

Even if these programs are preserved, they don’t go nearly far enough. But the Obama Administration doesn’t talk about reducing poverty in America. It talks only about preserving the middle class.

Yet unless we focus on better schools, better health, and improved conditions for these poor kids and their families, in a few years America will have a significant population of under-educated and desperate adults.

The baby-boomer healthcare cliff.

Healthcare costs are already 18% of GDP. Between now and 2030, when 76 million boomers join the ranks of the elderly,those costs will soar. This is the principal reason why the federal budget deficit is projected to grow.

The Affordable Care Act offers a start but it isn’t nearly adequate to limit these rising costs. The President and the Democrats have to lead the way in using Medicare and Medicaid’s bargaining power over providers to get lower costs and to move from a fee-for-service system to a fee-for-healthy outcomes system of healthcare.

But we can’t avoid the fact we have the most expensive and least effective system of health care in the world that’s spending 30 percent more on paperwork and administration than on keeping people healthy. The real healthcare cliff can only be avoided if we adopt a single-payer healthcare system.

The environmental cliff.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump another 2.6 percent this year according to scientists, putting the human race perilously close to the tipping point when ice caps irretrievably melt, sea-levels rise, and amount of available cropland in the world becomes dangerously small.

Yet Republicans (and their patrons, such as Charles and David Koch) continue to deny climate change. And the Administration is no longer pushing for a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax.

Yet unless we act to reduce carbon emissions, other major emitters won’t do so. The only binding pact so far is the Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. never joined. And we’re taking no leadership at the international climate talks now taking place in Qatar.

Yes, America does face a cliff — not a fiscal cliff but a set of precipices we’ll tumble over because the GOP’s obsession over government’s size and spending has obscured them. And Democrats so far haven’t been able or willing to sound the real alarms.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.



Get Email Alerts from NationofChange
Author pic
ABOUT Robert Reich

 

ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org. Robert Reich's new film, "Inequality for All" is available on DVD
and blu-ray, and on Netflix in February.

Top Stories

16 comments on "Cliff Notes on the Three Real Perils Ahead"

DHFabian

December 10, 2012 4:43pm

The problem is that the "liberal" public discussion today has been pulled well to the right on core socio-economic issues -- especially since Clinton. I think part of the problem is the popularity of certain MSNBC talk show hosts who, while labeling themselves as "liberal", etc., espouse right wing ideas. Especially on socio-economic issues, today's liberals are well to the right of such conservative stalwarts as Eisenhower and Nixon! Like right-wingers of the pre-Reagan era, the "left" can recognize that not everyone can work, and that we simply do not have jobs for all who need them -- and then say, "tough." The public economic discussion is restricted to the middle class; the problem is, we're divided into three district economic classes. Since Reagan (and especially since Clinton), the poor have been drained, and yes, people do die as a direct result of poverty in the US today. We just don't talk about it. In the early 1960s, the US made the poor invisible, and they stayed invisible until the cities started burning. For today, media will continue to pander to the better off, the middle class (who buy their sponsors' products).

jeltez42

December 07, 2012 9:25am

All of these cliffs can be dealt with and without too much pain and agony. It is all about where our priorities are.

The child poverty is most likely the hardest of the bunch. The solution lies on a razor sharp line between too much government control and too many rewards for irresponsible behaviour. We would be forced to legally admit that some people just are not parental material and children would need to be removed and placed in a safe environment with good parents, not foster care. This would mean that the rest of us would have to step up and take these kids into our homes and raise them as our own. Birth control would have to take a much bigger role for both men and women. Education and jobs would help make some better parents and we need to take that path too.

The Boomers is the easiest of all. For once in their selfish, navel gazing lives they will have to admit they will not live forever. (disclosure, I am a Boomer). They, not the government, need to start demanding ROI (return on investment) information on health care treatment prior to its start. If the ROI is not there, then don't take the treatment. Many of us do not want to be kept alive at all costs, please respect our wishes. If you do, then that is your choice and it should be respected. But then again, common sense, being reasonable and realistic have not been in the Boomer vocabulary so far.

Environmentally is an easy solution but that would mean asking people to change. CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not our biggest threats. Even if we stopped emitting them today, we would still see a dynamic climate. Even if we removed these evil gasses down to the lowest levels EVER, we still would see life altering climate changes. So here is what we need to do. Stop consuming like everything is unlimited. Build Zero energy buildings, localise food and power, use public transportation, stop polluting our soils and water, stop building cities, stop planting row crops in semi-arid regions, stop planting rice, and stop having more than one child per woman. Then have science focus on adapting because like it or not, the climate will always be changing.

DHFabian

December 10, 2012 4:51pm

Blanket condemnation of a generation never works well for anyone. A good many of us always rejected the self-centered, hyper-materialistic culture ushered in with the Reagan years. Even in the 1960s/early '70s, altruism was not an American norm. The US is money, not values, not ideals. The voices heard in the "public" forum, are only the voices of those who have enough money to be heard. Meanwhile, the rest of us have never stopped trying to build/rebuild a society that is less cruel, less obsessed with material acquisition -- and have not been passive in this.

Alicia Silverstone

December 06, 2012 5:08pm

I absolutely agree with your three points. But I absolutely disagree with your opening paragraph. It should read:

"The “fiscal cliff” is a a metaphor for a government that no longer responds to the biggest challenges we face because it’s paralyzed by intransigent politicians (Republican and Democrat) obsessed by the federal budget deficit that is a lie, and overwhelmed by big money from corporations, Wall Street, and billionaires."

AndymAndym

December 09, 2012 9:33am

Good point, Alicia. I'm tired of pretending the Democrats aren't part of the problem. They accept corporate campaign contributions too!

"Reagan proved deficits don't matter." --Dick Cheney

Esperanto

December 06, 2012 2:04pm

Do you remember how long South Africa's government refused to 'believe' that AIDS was sexually transmitted and how many lives could have been saved by condoms if facts had been faced? The world despised their self-serving ignorance and refusal to heed evidence.
Climate-change deniers are indulging in similarly desperately damaging deception, to the pain of the whole world. We used to expect better of the US but that's what we get when you teach kids that evidence is optional in school science classes.

DHFabian

December 06, 2012 1:09pm

On US child poverty: Primarily because of welfare "reform," only two other countries have worse child poverty than the US today. This has been a stunningly rapid reversal of conditions, and we call these policies "successful." With rare exception, progressive media doesn't consider American poverty to be worth mentioning, beyond the occasional perfunctory call for job creation.

Richard Cottingham

December 06, 2012 12:49pm

How can anyone read this and believe that the recovery will
ever reach middle to low income Americans. Why would corporations want to hire
American workers when they are making record profits by doing exactly the
opposite? Why would stockholders of those corporations want to see American jobs
return to America when they are getting wealthy from the profits of corporations
that outsource jobs?

Many people wondered why in the world Billionaires spent so
much money on supporting Romney and Ryan. Individuals like the Koch Brothers and
Adelson spent far more than President Obama's tax plan will cost them if it ever
happens. They did it because they knew Ryan and Romney would do nothing to
pressure corporations to share the wealth. They feared that the only way the
President could get reelected was to promise to tax the rich and to imply a
redistribution of wealth downward.

Get used to it folks. The economy as you see it today is all
the recovery most of us will ever see. Americans still make enough to set
spending records on Black Friday and and that is good enough for corporations
right now. As the ability to consume in America shrinks (as it is doing) the
ability to consume is growing in China and India and other third world
countries.

When those countries develop middle classes that begin to
demand a voice in ther governments, fair taxation, fair treatment for labor,
fair pay and fair wealth distribution, jobs will begin to return to America. By
then Americans will be willing to work for slave wages like the Chinese and
Indians are doing now.

Unless Americans force drastic changes in the relationship
between government and corporations; unless Americans force drastic changes the
the relationship between government and the wealthy elite; and unless Americans
force drastic changes in the ideology driving government actions the recovery is
over.

DHFabian

December 06, 2012 1:21pm

We need to somehow overcome worrying about what corporations want. In the 1980s, America bought into the idea that putting actual rules and requirements on businesses choked them out. Reagan deregulated business. They've essentially had carte blanche every since. To change conditions in the US, we must start by restoring legitimate regulations. Real rules, conditions and obligations. We must also put a stop to our govt redistributing taxpayer dollars to corporations for the purpose of covering the costs of shipping our jobs out. Any corp. that gets a penny of tax cuts/grants, etc. must be prohibited from moving a single job out of the country for a period of, say, 25 years. We hear that imposing legitimate taxation and regulations on corps would result in massive job loss. The past 30-40 yrs disproves this, as several trillion dollars have been redistributed to corporations. Look at the results! Far fewer jobs, steadily worsening wages and working conditions. For every business that chooses to move out, there are qualified, competent people eager to start up new businesses in compliance with real regulations.

DHFabian

December 06, 2012 12:46pm

Bill Clinton's appalling policies, taking a machete to the safety net, ensure that deep poverty can only grow. During economic downturns in the past, those who fell into poverty were able to turn to welfare, keeping their families fed and sheltered until they could get back on their feet. Today, a big chunk of the population is a single job loss from losing absolutely everything. Try getting a job when you have no home address, no phone, no clean clothes/bath, no bus fare. Once you've been out of work for a while, employers won't hire you. That's the end of the road. The policies that Clinton established against our poor violate the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It honestly is puzzling to see the way that otherwise-progressive Americans flat-out ignore this issue, presumably because Bill Clinton took office under the banner of "Democrat" (in spite of Bill and Hillary Clint0n's consistent support of right wing policies and goals).

FullBlad

December 06, 2012 12:16pm

It's not often I'm in agreement with Mr Reich but he does make these three points in a truly poignant and truthful manner. The fact that the corporatocracy operates solely on the basis of the need for ever increasing margins of profit no matter the environmental or social cost as per the neo conservative globalization mantra does not bode well for the planet and it's inhabitants. Unless the masses of humanity can change the course being taken by the hegemony of the plutocracy chaos and catastrophe awaits the next generations of life on the planet, let alone the three points made here.

larronm

December 06, 2012 11:50am

I find in interesting that the lead article in today's "HuffPost" quotes top business executives saying that they should be paying higher taxes. Other CEO's from the defense industry suggest that cutting the DOD budget by $150 Billion would not hurt their industry (as I mentioned in a post yesterday). These comments only reinforce the notion that the GOP is playing political games rather than seeking real compromise to resolve the budget stalemate.

Poverty in America has been growing for 3 main reasons: The recession of 2007-2009 and the continuing failure of our educational system to bring the next generation of workers up to the skill levels needed to fill todays jobs are just 2 of those. We, as a nation, we cannot remain competitive in the world marketplace so long as we continue to dismiss a fourth of our population. Over the past several decades about 25% of our youth fail to complete High School. In todays high skill, high tech workplace, these folks are relegated to minimum wage and scarce jobs.
But the problem of low wages is exacerbated by GOP's continuing efforts to destroy the labor unions. In the boom years following WWII, a third of workers were unionized. Today, private sector unionized workers are only about 7% of the work force. The growth of low wage, part time work for workers who lack representation is driving poverty rates upward.

It all seems to fall nicely within the GOP 's inability to grasp even simple arithmatic. If our economy is 70% consumer driven, as it is, than we must increase the number of consumers with disposable income if our economy is to grow and prosper. Reducing worker earnings, eliminating other compensation, such as health care, and limiting educational opportunities will only further reduce the level of consumers with money to spend. If we then factor in the loss of an additional 700,000 public sector jobs and the continuing loss of these jobs (see today's ADP report) it is easy to understand the growth of poverty in America. If you listen to House Speaker Boehner you'd think that they live in an alternative universe. Perhaps they do. But someone needs to stick a pin in that big bubble they are living in.

jeltez42

December 07, 2012 8:55am

Our educational system has not failed to produce skilled workers, it is employers who have failed to pay their fair share for education. It is employers' fault for not hiring American workers. Instead they favour foreign workers who have a much lower quality of education (but not on paper as they seem to have Master's degrees but don't know diddly) with far fewer skills all because they are "cheaper".

The GOP says one thing but it means the total opposite. One of my favourites regards Right to Work. The ads put out here in Michigan is that Right to Work will improve working conditions and pay of workers because they will not have to pay union dues. But as my fellow commenter has pointed out, in reality wages, benefits, and worker safety all falls.

Can the GOP be brought into reality? I doubt it. When you ask them why Ford is building plants in China they will tell you it is because taxes are too high here. When you try and reason with them that China has vast untapped markets with disposable income begging for something to spend it on AND strong protectionist laws they look at you like you are from another universe.

The GOP does not live in a bubble and pricking what is around them will not matter. They are too far gone for help.

DHFabian

December 06, 2012 1:01pm

It's not politically correct to say so, but the fact remains that our welfare programs played a powerful role in the growth of wealth and stability following WWll until they began getting "reformed" in the 1980s, toward ending them with the Clinton administration. Because there was a safety net, employers were compelled to pay fair wages, have safe working conditions, and treat workers with a measure of human respect and decency. This who didn't, couldn't get workers, and their businesses failed.
While the details are far too long to list here, welfare itself served to significantly expand the middle class; as soon as we got rid of it, the middle class began its downhill slide. Today's efforts (largely by "liberal" media such as MSNBC) to turn what's left of the middle class into a gated community is actually serving to turn it into a relic of the past. We hear the call to "Rebuild the middle class!" Out of what? As long as we choose policies that brutalize people for "choosing the poverty lifestyle" (an insane notion), more of the middle class will become a part of the poor.

woetopoe

December 06, 2012 12:44pm

On child poverty rates: The Conservatives don't care if a "child" starves to death...as long as its born.
On baby boomer's healthcare costs: The Conservatives would just as soon see the aging boomer's die as have to expend a nickel for their survival. If God had wanted them to live, he would have seen to it that they became rich and could afford healthcare.
On the environmental cliff: Forget it...we're already entering the "sudden death" segment of the game and those most responsible for humanity's survival
are more concerned with profits...not people. Or any other living thing.

jeltez42

December 07, 2012 9:03am

Christian Conservatives are more than willing to cut WIC and food stamps and letting a pregnant woman starve, thus letting her unborn child starve. Oh wait, they believe the child will just pop out and be fine as it is a fully functioning independent being able to live on its own from the moment of conception. The fetus only chooses to live for 9 months in the womb.